"I had lost my ambition and desire to succeed and better myself; I was adrift," Page recalled. "But I could make more money in a few hours modeling than I could earn in a week as a secretary."
At 35, Page walked away from it all. She quit modeling and moved to Florida, where she married a much younger man whose passions, she later learned, were watching television and eating hamburgers.
Page fled from her home in tears after a dispute on New Year's Eve in 1959. Down the street, she noticed a white neon sign over a little white church with its door open.
After quietly taking a seat in the back, she had a born-again experience. Page immersed herself in Bible studies and served as a counselor for the Billy Graham Crusade.
In 1967, she married for a third time. After that marriage ended in divorce 11 years later, Page plunged into a depression marked by violent mood swings. She argued with her landlady and attacked her with a knife. A judge found her innocent by reason of insanity but sentenced her to 10 years in a California mental institution.
She was released in 1992 from Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County to find that she had unwittingly become a pop-culture icon. A movie titled "The Rocketeer" and the comic book that inspired it contained a Bettie-esque character, triggering a revival, among women as well as men, that continues unabated.
With the help of admirers including Hefner, Page finally began receiving a respectable income for her work.
In an interview published in Playboy magazine in 2007, Page expressed mixed feelings about her achievements. "When I turned my life over to the lord Jesus I was ashamed of having posed in the nude," she said. "But now, most of the money I've got is because I posed in the nude. So I'm not ashamed of it now. But I still don't understand it."
She spent most of her final years in a one-bedroom apartment, reading the Bible, listening to Christian and country tunes, watching westerns on television, catching up on diet and exercise regimens or sometimes perusing secondhand clothing stores.
Occasionally, however, Page was persuaded to visit the Sunset Boulevard penthouse offices of her agents at CMG Worldwide to autograph pinups of herself in the post-World War II years of her prime. The agency controls her image and those of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana, among others.
During one such event in early 2006, Page needed about 10 minutes to get through the 10 letters of her name. As she pushed her pen over a portrait of her in a negligee with an ecstatic smile, she laughed and said, "My land! Is that supposed to be me? I was never that pretty."
She is survived by her brother Jack Page of Nashville and sister Joyce Wallace of Blairsville, Ga.
Sahagun is a Times staff writer.